Meet Howard Smith

Main page content

Dean Howard Smith shares his thoughts on the strengths and priorities of the Milgard School of Business.

A large, weathered, buffalo skull hangs on the wall of Howard Smith’s office. It’s a reminder of his time at the University of New Mexico, and it lends a Georgia O’Keefe touch to the Northwest esthetic of the Dougan building.

Somehow in the move from Oregon, the horns were misplaced. For a while, the skull sat hornless in Smith’s Milgard School of Business office, looking sleek and mysterious, though incomplete. But not for long.

“I was unpacking a box, and there they were! I grabbed them and reattached them to the skull,” said Smith.

The irresistible image of Smith “grabbing the bull by the horns” comes to mind as he shares his thoughts on the strengths and priorities of the Milgard School of Business. 

The buffalo skull on Dean Smith's wall is part of a larger western motif used to decorate his office.

Prodigal Son

One could say Smith’s journey to UW Tacoma started just 40 miles up the road in Seattle. He got his Ph.D. in 1976 from what is now UW’s Foster School of Business, studying organizational theory and health services administration. Although his career since then has taken him to Albuquerque, New Mexico; Boise, Idaho; and Forest Grove, Oregon, Smith always hoped to be able to return to the Puget Sound area.

“Six years ago, my wife and I bought some property on Whidbey Island, near Langley,” said Smith recently. “Two years ago, I built an incredibly small, but very beautiful house.”

Smith still can’t believe his good fortune — the deanship at UW Tacoma seems an almost perfect fit with his skills and experience. Plus, he’s back in the Puget Sound region, living in Tacoma and on Whidbey Island.

Smith’s pedigree is impressive. After his UW Ph.D., he served as dean at the University of New Mexico for both its Anderson School of Management and its School of Public Administration, then served at Boise State University both as dean of the College of Business & Economics and as the vice president for university advancement. Most recently he was the founding dean of the Pacific University College of Business.

Milgard Connection

Smith’s title in full is the Gary E. and James A. Milgard Endowed Dean of the Milgard School of Business.

The names are an indication of the close relationship UW Tacoma has with the Milgard family and the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundations. The relationship goes back to 2003, when the Milgard family, founders of Milgard Manufacturing, Inc., the Fife-based window and door company, made gifts to the university that led to the naming of the business school and established provisions, including the endowed dean position, for strong leadership.

Since then, founding dean Shahrokh Saudagaran worked to recruit a first-class faculty. “We have an unusually strong faculty in their scholarly accomplishments, on par with much larger business schools,” said Smith. “We also have a great emphasis on teaching. So, that’s a pretty powerful combination — the education that is delivered, I am confident, is quite high in terms of the value that is being added.”

But the work of building a school — building its distinctiveness, its reputation, its service to students and the community — is never really done. Smith is looking closely at what’s next for the Milgard School.


“A major part of what a dean does is externally-focused,” said Smith. “I help articulate a vision, getting cooperation and buy-in from the faculty and the business community, working a lot with external stakeholders on raising resources.”

“What I’ve been hearing — from the Milgards, from the faculty, from alumni and from the community — is the vision of the Milgard School being one of the top business schools in the Northwest, one that students seek out and choose to attend.”

“There are already a lot of pieces in place,” said Smith. “We’ve just recently been reaccredited by AACSB, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. That’s the gold standard of accreditation. Only about one in four U.S. business schools achieves that, only about 5% of b-schools in the world.”

“We can build on strengths that we already have in the faculty and in the community. Really, it will just take a few careful, strategic investments to be able to leverage a number of distinctive programs.”

One investment will be a new professional success center, increasing the school’s capacity to connect students to employers.

“I see this connection as hugely important,” said Smith. “Developing that flow of corporations looking to fill jobs with Milgard and UW Tacoma graduates is one of the most powerful things we can do to fulfill our vision.”

Milgard School at a Glance


BA in Business Administration
-- Accounting
-- Finance
-- General Business
-- Management
-- Marketing

Master of Business Administration

Master of Accounting

Master of Cybersecurity & Leadership

Master of Science in Business Analytics (Fall 2017)


Fall 2015 headcount
50% male | 50% female


Fall 2015 headcount
54% male | 46% female


Professors 4
Associate professors 14
Assistant professors 4
Senior lecturers 5
Lecturers 8


Accredited by Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).


Subjects include:

  • Effects of diversity on group process and effectiveness
  • Default risk of firms with accounting irregularities
  • Strategic bargaining during Chapter 11 reorganization
  • The use of fantasy in food targeted at children
  • Detection of financial statement fraud using evolutionary algorithms
  • Costs of selling bonds before their time
  • Salesforce product perceptions and control systems in new product introductions
  • Explaining ownership patterns in franchising through agency theory

Business Analytics

“I am really lucky to be able to build on a lot of work done by my predecessors in one particular area: business analytics,” said Smith.

“This is very quantitative, data-driven analysis of large data sets of past business performance to drive future business planning. What’s new in this area is the ability to employ machine learning — adaptive computer programs that learn and change in the presence of new data.”

“On our faculty already are Haluk Demirkan, ranked fifth in the world in this field, Sergio Davalos and Margo Bergman. We’ve gotten permission to hire another senior faculty member. We will launch a new Master of Science in Business Analytics next fall [the UW’s Board of Regents approved the new degree at its November 2016 meeting – Ed.], with a new undergraduate degree to follow.

“We’ll establish a new center for business analytics to help coordinate our research and community engagement. We’ll be just the second university in the Northwest to be offering this degree, so it promises to be one of our areas of distinctive ability. Already, in my conversations with local business leaders, I’ve been hearing excitement that we’re doing this.

“We need to make certain it isn’t just about large organizations, but that we make the degree and our work applicable to small and medium-sized organizations, as well. Our students should leave with the capacity to say, ‘OK, here is a bakery or a bank with 20 different outlets. Let’s analyze these data for service delivery and waiting times and return on sales and investment and so forth,’ regardless of the scale of the enterprise.”

Social Responsibility

“Another area for which a lot of the pieces are already in place is the alignment of corporate leadership and social responsibility,” said Smith.

“Corporate social responsibility is a term that has been around since the 1960s. It describes a broadening of the private sector’s concern beyond just profit and shareholder value to include the ecological and social health of the community and environment in which a firm operates.

“This ethical philosophy is already an important part of our curriculum. We are launching an undergraduate minor in that area, and we have a very active center. With a little more investment, that area could become a very distinctive program nationally and internationally. We should be able to reach acclaimed distinctiveness in that area.

“I think it becomes packaged for employers as, ‘Oh, yeah, they have a very strong ethics program at the Milgard School. Their students are well-trained in ethical issues and fair play and doing what’s right as part of their education, and hence will make for a better employee that we will hire.’

“Professor Shahrokh Saudagaran, our school’s founding dean, has agreed to serve as the leader of this initiative, working with Joe Lawless, the executive director of our Center for Corporate Leadership and Social Responsibility.”

Innovation Mindset

“I think the Milgard School could make a major contribution to business growth in the greater Tacoma region,” said Smith.

“There isn’t really an innovation mindset, in my opinion, in this area. There’s the beginning of that mindset, with things like VIBE, Tacoma Tech Hub, SURGE Tacoma, 1 Million Cups, RAIN, Spaceworks and other things, but it’s nascent, fragile. It needs nurturing.

“As I see it, our general approach in our curriculum at the Milgard School has been that we are preparing our students to go and work for somebody else who’s the builder. To get an innovation mindset going, we need to have our graduates, our students, thinking, ‘Hey! How do I go about building my own business?’ What if every student at the Milgard School had to have started a business in order to graduate?

“If you say ‘entrepreneurship’ to a young person, they say ‘I don’t know what that is — I can’t even spell it. No, thank you.’ But building a business could be as simple as $100 and a website. In fact, there’s a book called The $100 Startup, and there are even universities that have $100 Startup competitions. It’s all about how someone can turn their passion into a livelihood, or at least think of ways of doing that. If you fail, that’s fine, too, because you’re going to learn something in the process.

“The Milgard School can become a catalyst for innovation. We can offer a major in entrepreneurship, we can have in our curriculum every student involved in entrepreneurship. We can send out students as individuals and teams to organizations that are launching new products or services, or new start-up enterprises, and need a financial plan or a marketing plan.

“We can act as a gatekeeper, as innovators in the community come to seek assistance. We can point them to resources — like the incubators and the accelerators — that already exist in the community.”

Culture & Arts Management

From the window of his office, Smith can look out at a resurgent downtown Tacoma. “We’ve got museum row here, bracketed by the brewery district on one end and the theater district on the other. And here UW Tacoma sits, right in the middle.”

“Almost every business person I’ve met says, ‘Boy, what a great thing UW Tacoma has been for downtown.’ So how do we take it to the next level? How do we harness all that creative energy into a feedback loop so that it just keeps building on itself? How do we make downtown Tacoma the kind of destination that people from Vancouver to Portland will say ‘Wow! We get to go to Tacoma,’ for recreation, for business, whatever?

“We’ve got to turn the campus into a destination. We are already pretty much unique in the nation as a campus that has restored an entire district of 19th- and early-20th-century warehouses for use as academic buildings. We already have a lot of expertise in blending public and private sector uses within our campus footprint.

“I think the Milgard School and UW Tacoma’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences could collaborate to create an academy for culture and arts management. We would launch a new degree in arts management, and we would create the physical plant on our campus for all sorts of innovative arts and cultural enterprises.

“Imagine a series of spaces housing visual and performing artists, culinary centers, boutiques — collected together in a way that creates a ‘third-space’ kind of environment. This is all the rage in up-and-coming urban areas across the country. Why not here in Tacoma?”

Right Here in Tacoma

That why-not-here-in-Tacoma tag is something of a mantra for Smith, reflecting how quickly he has embraced the spirit of 253 (the telephone area code centered on Tacoma). He has an infectious excitement about the future of the Milgard School and UW Tacoma that emerges in his laugh and his ebullient way of launching into a story.

Meanwhile, that buffalo skull is looking over Smith’s shoulder, maintaining a vigilant eye over the precincts of the dean’s office.

Don’t worry. It’s not going anywhere. Smith has it firmly by the horns.

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / November 17, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or